Dàguānlóu Cinema

Cinema in Dashilar & Xīchéng South

China's oldest cinema has been screening movies, including a few Western releases, since 1903.

The Old Cinema Cafe on the ground floor has a small exhibition on the cinema's history, alongside photos of old-time Chinese movie stars and a few ancient cameras and projectors. It makes a good pit stop for a coffee (¥25) or tea (from ¥20), if you need a break from shopping in Dashilar. And the cinema, despite its illustrious past, remains one of the cheapest places in town to catch a flick.

Shànghǎi might have been where the movies first arrived in China – courtesy of a Spanish showman who set up a projector in a teahouse in 1896 – but Dashilar and Běijīng was the site of China's first proper movie theatre. Dàguānlóu Cinema started screening films way back in 1903. Amazingly, considering how much of China's architectural heritage has disappeared, it's not only still standing but continues to show movies, including a few Western releases.

The cinema was opened by Ren Qingtai, a pioneer photographer before he discovered moving pictures. Ren would go on to direct China's first film in 1905 – an excerpt of Peking opera – as well as founding the country's first movie studio in southwest Běijīng's Fēngtái district. Appropriately, given the significant role he played in China's cinematic history, he was the inspiration for the 2000 Chinese film Shadow Magic, which chronicles the early days of cinema in the capital.